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[The following interview contains spoilers for Halloween Kills.]
Anthony Michael Hall has been working alongside Hollywood luminaries since he was 14 years old, and nearly four decades later, his gratitude for each and every opportunity has only increased. Hall, who recently returned to the big screen in David Gordon Green’s Halloween Kills, plays a grown-up version of Tommy Doyle, the 8-year-old boy who Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode babysat in Halloween (1978). Since the original character was bullied at school and survived an attack by Michael Myers, Hall tried to embody the adult version of Doyle as someone who refuses to be defenseless and victimized.
“There was this great sense I got from David [Gordon Green] that this was very much a hero’s part and very heroic in nature. But in fairness, that’s the arc he gives to all of us,” Hall tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So whether it’s Kyle [Richards] as Lindsey or great people like Nancy Stephens and Charles Cyphers, they’ve all come back and they’ve all made this decision to depart from victimhood and just being survivors to really fighting and unifying as a town. It’s classic good versus evil, which we see in literature, film and everywhere, and I like those simple stakes. So I thought that was plenty for me to work with, and Tommy is kind of the eye of the storm. He’s the tip of the spear.”
Unfortunately, Tommy’s proactive approach only worked for so long as Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) reminded viewers that he’s the “essence of evil” for a reason. Despite being ganged up on by a mob of townspeople, Doyle and Co. were no match for the superhuman force that is Myers.
“Well, maybe I should be a little coy about that. You never know what can happen, but I know it doesn’t look good for [Tommy]. It doesn’t look good for him at all,” Hall shares. “I mean, it was kind of epic, but going back to high school English, it’s the classical tragedy. At least one person has to die, so it was a noble death, I think.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Hall looks back at his experiences on the set of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight and Tim Burton’s Edwards Scissorhands. He also discusses his collaboration with John Hughes and how National Lampoon’s Vacation opened the door for another three films together.
So Tommy Doyle is reintroduced via a monologue that reminds people of his role in Halloween (1978) and how Michael Myers impacted his life. It’s exposition done right. What was your game plan for that scene?
Thank you for what you said. I appreciate it. Well, just to put it in context, we never usually shoot in sequence, but that was a fortunate occurrence. It was about a week into the shoot, so it was kind of at the beginning. And it was a great opportunity because, as you said, it kind of sets the table. So I appreciate what you said about it being exposition done right. So it was just really cool. What’s interesting about it is the film opens with everybody coming together at that town bar. Everyone is kind of commiserating about having survived Myers all of these years, and the ideas of victimhood and being survivors are addressed. The words are great because they’re written by really talented writers, and one of the things that they’ve done effortlessly is read those original characters from [Halloween (1978) to Halloween (2018)] to this new version. So in fairness to the other actors, that’s the arc that David, Danny [McBride] and Scott [Teems] gave us all. The idea of going from victimhood or being a survivor to becoming a fighter, or unifying as a town to rise up against him. So as you saw, that’s the energy that propels the first act. Back to the shooting of it, it was great. It was really fun. One of the things I like to do as an actor is make the crew and the cast, whoever’s there, the first audience. So I just dive in and make the circumstances real and have some fun with it. So I had a great, great time working with David Gordon Green and Michael Simmonds, our cinematographer.
As a kid, Tommy was bullied by Lonnie and his friends, and he also survived Michael Myers, so it makes sense why he’s now this bruiser, tough guy, enforcer type. Was that evolution on your mind as you defined his physicality?
That’s a great point. I did look at the first film, and there is a nice full circle of events because, as you said very intelligently, he’s bullied in the first film. He’s also the one who introduces this idea of, “You can’t kill the boogeyman,” because as children, Tommy and Lindsey [Kyle Richards] are being looked after by Jamie’s character, Laurie. So there is this nice kind of full arc. He goes from being bullied and victimized, just like the rest of the town. So I just hit the ground running. There was this great sense I got from David that this was very much a hero’s part and very heroic in nature. But in fairness, that’s the arc he gives to all of us. So whether it’s Kyle as Lindsey or great people like Nancy Stephens and Charles Cyphers, they’ve all come back and they’ve all made this decision to depart from victimhood and just being survivors to really fighting and unifying as a town. And as I said, that’s the energy that I feel propels the first act of the film. So yeah, that was all in my awareness, but I was really just attacking the circumstances as an actor and trying to bring that opposition, along with my castmates, to Myers. It’s classic good versus evil, which we see in literature, film and everywhere, and I like those simple stakes. So I thought that was plenty for me to work with, and Tommy is kind of the eye of the storm. He’s the tip of the spear. But as I said, in fairness to the other actors, that’s really what Scott, Danny and David did for all of us by not only just reintroducing these characters, but giving that similar trajectory to us all.
He’s also connected to Kyle’s character, Lindsey, since they were friends as kids and they both survived Michael Myers together. There are even a couple moments where he leans into his concern for her, such as when she’s sitting in a car after Michael’s attack at the park. Did the two of you try to find those subtle ways to show their unique bond?
It’s a great question. I can only speak for myself, but there’s a healthy amount of space you want to give to the other actors. So you find out during the making of the film if they like rehearsing, running lines or whatever. But more often than not, those nuances are explored in the scene, in the actual doing of it. So that was something that I calibrated and adjusted based on David’s guidance. I know the exact scene you’re talking about, so that was stuff that we just found in that moment, but you’re right. It supports that long, enduring friendship that they have. Some people were even wondering if they would wind up married in this film or as a couple, but it’s just that bond that they’ve had since childhood. It was a lot of fun seeing people reunite like Kyle and Jamie Lee and Nancy and Charles. But those nuances were often found during the making of it.
If you were in a situation that was remotely similar to this movie, would you grab the bat of the wall like Tommy, or would you be booking it out of town like most people?
That’s a loaded question. That’s funny. Here, I’d refer to my own background. I’m of Irish-Italian descent, and I come from a very working-class family and a Northeast upbringing. So I feel like a lot of that fight is naturally just sort of in me, I have to admit. I have a lot of that sort of natural fight without manifesting it into fighting. So I have a lot of that in me, and that was easy to draw upon. And really, my focus was just creating a strong opposition to Myers. I heard David Gordon Green mention in one of the interviews that there’s actually very limited information about the mythology of Myers. We don’t actually know much about him. We know that he’s a stalker and a predator, and that he represents the boogeyman, a sort of evil incarnate. But there’s still not much known about him. So something that I worked with is that idea that in the context of this film franchise, people are always rooting for the villain. He’s not even an anti-hero, right? They just want to see Myers do his thing. So I felt my task, as an actor, was to really just create that opposition for good. I tried to be as much of a heroic force as I could be on behalf of my neighbors, the townspeople and everybody else. But as I said earlier, it’s really the arc and the trajectory that they gave us all. So I think that’s a testament to their good writing and how they’re able to effortlessly thread those characters from the 1978 and 2018 versions into this new version. And at the same time, David is brilliant about kind of making space for new characters as well, whether it’s Vanessa [Carmela McNeal], the nurse, or her husband [Michael Smallwood], the doctor. Brian the bartender [Brian Mays Sr.] is actually a friend of David’s from Texas, and that gentleman owns a barbecue place in Texas. So he does this kind of Fellini-esque type of casting where he also hires nonactors to fulfill roles. So it’s a very interesting thing. It speaks to David’s dexterity as a filmmaker and also as a writer-director. He is just fluid and allows those things to happen, and in some cases, he plans them. So not only are we reintroducing original core characters, but he makes space for these other characters as well. He just did a brilliant job with the film. I really do.
I thought it was quite poetic how Tommy vowed to protect Laurie the same way she protected him 40 years earlier. Was that a great day with Jamie Lee as you reunited your characters?
Yeah, that was a lot of fun. I had seen her one day prior to that. And just the way the schedule worked, Jamie Lee started about a week and a half into the production. So we had already done a bunch of scenes, and I felt really good about it. And then one day, we were standing outside of the Haddonfield hospital that we doubled in Wilmington, and all of a sudden, these two bloodied hands were shaking and waving in my face. (Laughs.) And through the fingers, I could see it was Jamie Lee. And then she opened her arms and gave me a big hug and said, “Welcome to the family.” She was great. Jamie Lee has a wonderful energy about her. I think that she’s someone who certainly appreciates her journey and the amount of work she’s done and contributed to, but the most impressive part was just interpersonal. She’s encouraging of others and she’s a very loving and generous spirit. She really is. She’s got a great way about her. As you’ve probably heard from many actors, the tone is often set by the leaders on set, whether it’s the filmmaker, the producers or what have you. So she was a great boss to work for and a great actress to work with. And that first scene in the hospital was actually our first scene together. So we just dove in, and I just kind of revved myself up. I understood the stakes as I was entering the scene and what I had to relay to her as you mentioned. It is poetic, and I think it’s potent and important to the story because it represents a full circle based Lindsey and Tommy in the original.
So the big brawl at the end was portrayed in a rather intimate way. It looked like you shot some of it with a group of people on an actual street, but there also seemed to be inserts of you alone on a dark stage.
Well, you nailed it. You have a great eye. That’s exactly what it was. When the whole community rolls up, we shot it at night on the street in the town we were doubling. Our great stunt team of men and women pulled up in the pickup trucks, and it was very much orchestrated and worked out. So we had a good time shooting it. And you’re right. We did shift to the stage for the final climactic scenes. What was interesting about that was that they built a huge kind of Lazy Susan. It was a circular rotating element on the stage, and that allowed us to move in a circle around the camera. So we were circling around, almost like a carousel to the camera, and that allowed us to get all of these great, super tight images during the climax of the fight. So yeah, we did it on the day with the stunt team, and then the other stuff became one-on-ones with myself and Myers, who was played by James Jude Courtney.
[The next question and answer contains spoilers for Halloween Kills.]
And sadly, Tommy couldn’t defeat Michael in the end.
(Laughs.) Well, maybe I should be a little coy about that. You never know what can happen, but I know it doesn’t look good for him. It doesn’t look good for him at all. I mean, it was kind of epic, but going back to high school English, it’s the classical tragedy. At least one person has to die, so it was a noble death, I think. (Laughs.)
So let’s branch out and go back to your youth. How has your relationship to your John Hughes movies changed over the years?
With an open heart, I’ve always just really been glad to speak about John Hughes because, truthfully, the guy put me on the map and gave me my career. Going back to National Lampoon’s Vacation, for example, that was scripted by John. And just to give you a little context, John did She’s Having a Baby with Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth McGovern. Basically, that gets into his life before becoming an iconic writer-director in Hollywood. He was living in Chicago. He was writing copy for advertising agencies. I remember him telling me this, too, but he would send in stories to Matty Simmons, who was the founder of National Lampoon magazine. So John’s beginning as a copywriter was really interesting, and then he submitted that story [She’s Having a Baby]. And then I wound up doing Vacation, but I didn’t meet John during the making of that film. That’s when I met Matty Simmons and Harold Ramis, who were also mentors and guys that I really loved as a kid. I got to work for them and they really kind of broke me into the business in large part.
But my experience with John was awesome. What I can tell you about him is that he loved to laugh. He was always kind of conspiring with us actors, individually. He would always carve out time to just discuss the part, to make changes and to take a suggestion. He was such a talented, natural writer. We would shoot three or four takes as it was written, and then we would always digress. We would always mix things up, have fun with it and play. So my first memory is just the laughter on set. We would always be laughing. And I just wanted to impress him and make him happy. He was like an older brother to me, really. So I loved the guy. I have nothing but great things to say about him because he was truly a collaborator. Because he worked with that sense of humility and passion about what it could be, he never limited it. He wound up getting that much more from all of us, and we were just young actors trying to find a way to do our jobs. So my great memory of him is just how much he enjoyed the process, how much laughter there was on the set and how open he was throughout the making of all of the films that we did. Vacation predated the time where I worked with him and did that trilogy of films [Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science]. Nonetheless, it was just such a great time working with him and we really became good friends.
I often would stay at his family’s house. His two sons, John and Jamie, at the time, looked like two little Macaulay Culkins. They were 8 and 5, respectively. I was 15, but I looked like a little 12-year-old bobblehead when I was doing Sixteen Candles. (Laughs.) He was just so cool, man. He would just embrace me. So I would often stay at their house and hang out on the weekends. Or he would take Molly [Ringwald] and I to record stores. Or he would take Molly and I and other castmembers to go hear blues music at blues clubs in Chicago. So I think all of those things contributed to why he was so effective and so successful as a writer-director. He was always very openhearted about allowing things to progress and to kind of embellish scenes. He would look for ways to conspire with us, particularly with me. It was like I was running to the sidelines and checking with my coach, as it were. So that’s what I’d like to share with you, and that’s why he got so much more out of all of us. I love that great Maya Angelou quote; she said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” I love that quote of Maya Angelou’s and I think that that really applies to John.
Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands is one of my favorite films of all time. Is there a day on that set that sums up the experience for you?
I found Burton to be very kind of quiet, not unlike [Christopher] Nolan. He kind of keeps to himself. He’s very almost shy, in a way. You could say it that way. He’s kind of shy. But when he directs, he comes to life. So at the time, we had a really talented cinematographer named Stefan Czapsky, and that’s one of the things I key into as an actor when I get onto the set. I really watch and study that dynamic. I observe the atmosphere between the director and the cinematographer because they’re really attacking the day and they’re really the most responsible for it in terms of the shot list and getting everything done. But with Tim, he was a very quiet, unassuming guy. He’d often sit in the director’s chair with a leg up to his chest. (Laughs.) He’d often twirl his hair. He just had that look. He looked like a member of The Cure with that long hair. (Laughs.) But I felt that he sprang to life when he directed and he was very passionate. He was a student of animation. His favorite actor was Vincent Price. If you look at this world he created, it’s kind of like a hybrid of some fairy tales. It’s Pinocchio. It’s also Romeo and Juliet to an extent. So I saw the great joy that he worked with, and I think that Tim Burton is sort of a modern-day Walt Disney. There are so few filmmakers that have such an identifiable look, texture and feel to their films, and Tim is certainly at the top of that list. He really has his own world that he creates. When we were in preproduction, I walked into his office, and I remember seeing all of the drawings for The Nightmare Before Christmas on the wall. So as a student of animation, here he was. He was drawing and prepping that film at the time, and at the same time, he was very much responsible for Scissorhands‘ production design with Bo Welch. So I was really impressed by him.
What observations have stuck with you from The Dark Knight and the many luminaries on that set?
Well, I’ve been very fortunate to work with Christopher Nolan. I’ve been really blessed to work with some great auteur writer-directors. So I was finishing the second-to-last season of The Dead Zone, and I was already riding high. I was feeling really excited about that. The show was having impact, and it was successful on the USA Network. And then this opportunity came up. I remember auditioning for Chris and for Emma [Thomas], his wife and producer. But I didn’t hear anything for a few months, and then, all of a sudden, I got the call to play Mike Engel. I actually shot the first day of the film, which was in London. We shot at a university, and we were using their film and television department. They had a kind of TV set, so that’s where we created GCN, the local television station in the film. So I had the privilege of shooting on day one of the production. And as you know, it went on to shoot for six months or what have you.
But I’ll tell you a funny story. Chris is a man of few words. He’s insular in some ways and he kind of keeps to himself. He’s a very interesting and very thoughtful guy, but he’s kind of quiet when he works. So we were about halfway through that day on set at the university, and I just kind of sidled up to him. And I said, “So who are your favorite filmmakers?” (Laughs.) Without missing a beat — but still taking a beautiful and very healthy sort of British pause — he goes, “Malick.” (Laughs.) He didn’t say Terrence; he just said, “Malick.” And then there was a three-second pause and he said, “Ridley,” for Ridley Scott. And then he paused another couple of seconds and said, “And Kubrick for his sense of control.” (Laughs.) And in that moment, I realized I was dealing with a modern-day Kubrick. I mean, Chris is a brilliant filmmaker. In most scenes, he would have three or four cameras running, but in some sequences, six, seven or eight cameras were running. He’s just a brilliant guy, technically, but he had a different process. He’s eccentric in some ways, too. He wore the same thing every day. He would show up very well-dressed in a pair of jeans, a vest and a three-quarter length coat. He was almost dressed like a conductor, but he was very focused, to be very honest. He knows it when he sees it, and he also has a great sense of humor. You could get a smile out of him, but as the British would say, he knows how to take the piss out of it. He knew that I was earnestly asking him about these great filmmakers, so he did give me the answer, but it was funny because he never looked at me when he said any of those things. It was just, “Malick, Ridley and Kubrick for his sense of control.” (Laughs.)
The Gotham Tonight episodes, starring your character, were shot for viral marketing purposes as well as for Blu-ray special features. Did you shoot all of those episodes during production, or did they come up with the idea after the fact?
It had to be during production. On the day, there was a funny thing that happened. Heath was not there, so we had prerecorded versions of Heath reading the scenes as the Joker. And during those scenes, the idea was that he interrupted my anchor character’s regularly scheduled broadcast. But a couple of times when we were shooting close-ups on the other actors, the voiceover playback dropped out, so I just started ad-libbing as the Joker and imitating that brilliant voice that he had in the film. (Laughs.) But to your question, yeah, we did all of that on the day. We shot all those segments at the beginning in London, and that was actually day one of the production in 2007. And then I wrapped later in Chicago, which was my second installment.
I know you shot some moments at Gotham General Hospital, but did you stick around for its explosion?
Oh, I did! Yeah, that was an exciting day because of what I had found out. It was actually one of the producers who told me. That was an abandoned building of some sort [Brach’s Candy Factory] in a funky area. It might’ve been in South Side Chicago. So if you can imagine those images of Heath walking toward camera and me with the bus, the edifice on the right was actually an abandoned structure that they bought. I remember them telling me it was about $350,000 to buy that building. Then, they built that facade add-on bridge, which connected it to the other side of the street and another building. So it was a combination of an abandoned building and a great job by our production team building that bridge so it could really look enormous. And yes, that day was incredible because everybody stayed. That setup was planned so that we would get all of the shots that you see in the film right before it exploded by mid-afternoon. So I remember we were all standing around, cast and crew alike. Even actors that weren’t even working that day were there because everybody wanted to see it. It was like a July 4th fireworks extravaganza. Everybody just wanted to see the building go, so that was really fun. So everybody did stay and that was one of the days where he ran six or eight cameras. This is before drones even, so we had some helicopter shots as well. So it was a lot of fun to blow something up and know that it was going to be OK. (Laughs.)
There’s this narrative that Heath Ledger was a tortured artist while making that movie, but most people who were there say just the opposite. What was your impression?
I would go with the latter, absolutely. He was very focused and very concentrated, but we’d be in his trailer and he’d be playing music. I know he was a surfer. He just had a really cool, laid-back quality to him. Not unlike Johnny Depp on Scissorhands, he had so much prep time while they did his face up and everything. I can’t speak for him obviously, but I think he would use that time to prepare and get into it. Because once he was on set, he was incredible. He was in the zone. What he was doing as an actor was absolutely brilliant. I think we all agree with that, and obviously, he got the Oscar. He didn’t do anything that would offend anybody, but he was just in such a focused and concentrated zone. And all of the physicality that he brought and all of those little tics he did were brilliant. It reminds me of something De Niro said in some article I read. He said that in some cases, at least at that point of his career, he would select an animal that would remind him of whatever character he was playing and he would create body characteristics or ways of moving, if you will. So when I look back at The Dark Knight, there are all of those scenes where he’s confronting Christian as Batman or whomever, and he has all of these little crazy tics. His tongue’s either moving or he’s blinking. He did all of these little things in the film, which I thought were incredible. But what I saw was a very easy-going guy. It’s just that when he got to set, he was very focused and created space for himself, too. You got the sense he wanted to be left alone, but there was no rudeness or anything like that. It was just that he was really in the zone, and we could all see that, which was cool.
Looking ahead, what are you excited about?
Well, thanks for asking. I produced a film this summer, which is called The Class, and it was directed by a writer-director named Nick Celozzi. Nick is from Chicago, and it’s sort of a modern-day reimagining of The Breakfast Club. It’s not a remake. It’s an original script. There are six students in this one instead of five, and I play the assistant principal. And with a nod to my late great friend, Paul Gleason, there’s a little bit of what he did in the film. But my character shows a little more humor, too. But the setup is that Debbie Gibson, who’s a really talented actress by the way, plays this drama teacher, and she gives the students a task to present an improv character. We hope to have at least a small impact, like The Breakfast Club did, but I don’t want to compare it, obviously. That would be a misstep. But I’ve got to tell you, the script is phenomenal. So going back to Chicago and working with all of these young actors was a lot of fun, and it sharpened me in ways that I thought were really cool. So we’ll see what happens and if it goes to a streamer or if we get a release.
And then I went into another film right after that with Jessica Alba. I’m playing the villain in a film called Trigger Warning, which is directed by an Indonesian woman named Mouly Surya. She directed a film in 2017 called Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts, which was selected as Indonesia’s entry for the best foreign-language Oscar. She’s very talented. I also worked with a great lady boss, her collaborator and cinematographer, Zoë White, who also shot Handmaid’s Tale. Jessica is another boss. She’s incredible. She runs this huge company, and she goes from mothering on set to kicking ass in an action sequence. So she really knows her stuff. It’s produced by Thunder Road, which does all of the John Wick films. So we had an incredible action crew and stunt team called 87eleven, and they helped coordinate and orchestrate all of the fight scenes. It was also great to work for Netflix again. The last time I worked with them was back in 2017 on War Machine with Brad Pitt, and that was a great highlight of my career.
Interview edited for length and clarity. Halloween Kills is now available in theaters and on Peacock.
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